Nesting and post-fledging predation risk influence diel patterns of songbird fledging

Todd M. Jones, Scott J. Chiavacci, Thomas J. Benson, Michael Patrick Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Among stages of avian ontogeny, the act of nest departure or fledging is an abrupt transition into a new environment and a major leap toward independence for offspring. In altricial birds, the timing (i.e. time of day) of fledging is notable in that many species tend to fledge early in the morning. Past studies have proposed nest predation as a key factor driving birds to fledge earlier in the morning (the ‘survival hypothesis’), whereby offspring avoid peak times of nest predation that occur later in the day. A natural extension of this hypothesis is the predation of offspring post-fledging, whereby offspring are also timing their fledging with future survival prospects outside of the nest. However, few studies have investigated fledging behaviour in the context of both nesting and post-fledging predation. To help fill this knowledge gap, we investigated factors driving the timing and duration of fledging across six songbird species in the context of offspring predation: daily nest mortality, post-fledging mortality and diel patterns of nest predation risk. We found that > 60% of songbirds fledged early in the morning, whereas the peaks in nest predation risk occurred several hours post-fledging. Furthermore, species under greater risk of nest predation fledged earlier in the day and in closer succession to their siblings. Parameters of post-fledging mortality were poor predictors of fledging timing, but individuals from broods of species under higher risk of post-fledging mortality fledged in closer succession to their siblings. These results provide evidence in support of the survival hypothesis, and suggest that songbirds fledge in the morning to avoid peak times of nest predation risk that occur later in the day (~ 8 h after civil dawn). Such results corroborate past research highlighting predation on dependent offspring as a key factor driving variation in life histories across animal taxa; however, estimates of post-fledging mortality suggest that nest predation alone does not fully explain variation in fledging behaviour among species. Future research is therefore needed to investigate the contribution of other factors, such as energetics, parent–offspring conflict and diel patterns of post-fledging survival, which may help to mediate diel patterns of fledging within and among songbird species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-423
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Early online dateJul 29 2022
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • force fledging
  • juvenile behaviour
  • life history
  • nest leaving
  • nest predation
  • predator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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